After removing director, city incubator looks to new direction

OldStoryImageThe Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, which manages the business incubator for the city, decided to release Executive Director Booker Schmidt before receiving the results of a review being conducted by Georgia’s Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. The chamber did not say why Schmidt was removed, but the study did not influence the decision, says Anthony Lyons, director of the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency and the city’s point person in oversight of GTEC.

“[Georgia Tech] hasn’t given us any hints about what they’ve found or what they will recommend,” Lyons says.

The city commissioned a $20,000 study to take a hard look at GTEC’s future, Lyons says. “GTEC has done fairly well over its 10-year history, but we need to be clear about its role,” Lyons says.

“You have to be great at whatever you do,” Lyons says. “The study is drilling down into every aspect of how GTEC is run and what its role should be.”

GTEC needs a clear niche with so many active incubators in Alachua County, Lyons says.

The landscape of incubators will be getting more crowded with the construction of the 45,000-square-foot Florida Innovation Hub near the former Shands at AGH site. Many of its tenants are likely to be new companies based on University of Florida research—companies that in the past might have chosen to locate at GTEC.

GTEC is also competing against a host of existing incubators including:

  • The Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator Program, which UF has operated in the Progress Corporate Park in Alachua since 1995.
  • The Center for Innovation and Economic Development, which Santa Fe College operates downtown.
  • Synogen Development Group, a company founded by RTI Biologic’s founders, which operates a Downtown Technology Center incubator in the Sun Center.

Lyons says the decision to use a Georgia Tech group to study GTEC isn’t directly related to the fact that UF and city officials are using the public-private partnership around a similar incubator at Georgia Tech as a model for Innovation Square.

Schmidt to Stay Involved in Community

Schmidt, GTEC’s former director, came to the area when his wife accepted a position as a professor in UF’s College of Medicine. He says they have fallen in love with Gainesville and intend to stay here.

He says he will remain active in developing new businesses here and elsewhere, drawing on his 30 years of experience working with more than 125 technology companies. He also will remain a member of an advisory committee for the National Business Incubation Association, to which UF President Bernie Machen appointed him.

Schmidt says he’s proud of his accomplishments nurturing start-ups at GTEC. During his tenure:

  • Sinmat perfected and began selling specialized compounds, which are used to polish computer chips and other surfaces. It has now moved to a new plant in Gainesville and has clients around the world.
  • WiPower, a company that developed a new technology for charging cell phones and other devices wirelessly, grew to the point it was purchased by QUALCOMM .
  • Pandion Systems, an environmental technology company, and IATech, a developer of small unmanned planes, obtained a $2.5 million federal contract. Pandion was later sold to Normandeau Associates.

Even more significant, he says, is the role GTEC has played in promoting Gainesville as a center of innovation.

“With this community’s cooperation, support and collaboration, GTEC has been able to help sell a vision that this area has the talent and resources to build a tech economy,” he says. “One just has to look around to see that what was once a dream is becoming a reality.”

Bill Dorman, who has been the entrepreneur-in-residence at the CIED, is taking on the additional role as GTEC’s interim executive director.

Dorman says his experience will help him run GTEC. Before coming to Gainesville, he worked with FMI Corp.—a leading management consultant and investment banking firm for the construction industry.

The Georgia Tech study will be completed in early summer, and a full-time GTEC executive director will be hired after that, Lyons says.

 

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